COLUMN – WI must improve
Just a couple weeks before the start of the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, West Indies must be concerned about certain aspects of their batting and bowling which were exposed in the 4-1 loss to South Africa in the just concluded One-Day International series.
The consolation win by one wicket with nine balls to spare in the penultimate match at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth was a big relief for Jason Holder, the 23-year-old fast bowling all-rounder in his first series as captain. One only had to look at the expressions of the players after Andre Russell smashed the winning shot with his fifth six, along with five fours in a fine, unbeaten 64, to realise how much the victory meant to the team.
But let us be honest. The West Indies bowling got a battering for the most part and Scores of 439 for two off 50 overs in the second match at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg and 361 for five off 42 overs in the final match at SuperSport Park in Centurion are perfect examples of the ball-beating they suffered.
In fact, South Africa scored over 260 in every match apart from the third at Buffalo Park in East London when they required only 123 to win and triumphed by nine wickets.
Only seamer Carlos Brathwaite, who is not in the World Cup squad, conceded less than five runs an over and mind you, he did not even pick up a wicket in three matches, sending down 24 overs for 116 runs as a couple catches were missed. His economy rate was 4.83.
The top two wicket-takers were Holder with eight and Russell, with seven. Holder had an average of 35.87 with an economy rate of 6.83, while Russell’s average was 41.28, giving away 6.72 runs an over.
Marlon Samuels was at the top of the batting with 196 runs (ave: 39.20) but he needs to be reminded that proper running between the wickets is also a vital part of the game and he has a history of causing run outs of his partners.
The opening pair of veteran Chris Gayle and Dwayne Smith did not get going apart from a 51-run partnership in 5.4 overs in the first match at Kingsmead in Durban. That was reflected in Gayle’s poor return of 71 runs (ave: 14.20) and worse yet, the indifferent way in which he constantly got out.
Since scoring 109 against Sri Lanka at Sabina Park in his native Jamaica in June 2013, Gayle has been a dismal failure in ODIs, mustering 234 runs from 17 innings, eight of them in single digits, at an average of 13.76.
Those statistics must be a major concern to him, the coaches and the team. His approach appears to be lacklustre, bringing in to question his commitment at this stage as well.
It is no secret that on his day, Gayle is one of the most dangerous batsmen in the world but he has to show more purpose. Unless he can significantly turn his fortunes around in the World Cup, the selectors will have to seriously consider giving a younger player the opportunity to make his mark.
Smith also has to justify the faith of the selectors as his ODI batting record of 1467 runs with an average of 18.80 after 99 matches is far from cutting it.
Lendl Simmons, the other opener in the squad, did not play a single match in the ODI series against South Africa because of a finger injury. We can only believe that he will be fully fit for the World Cup, which starts February 14 since there has hardly been a release on his status from the West Indies Cricket Board.
Many eyes will be on Darren Bravo, too, who missed the series against South Africa for personal reasons.
Rookie Jonathan Carter is the other contender for a place in the middle order and though there were glimpses of his talent, a return of 80 runs (ave: 16.00), having played in all five matches would have left him thinking that he is a much better player.
Darren Sammy made a few interesting comments in relation to the series and expectations for the World Cup.
“We are still a bunch of confident guys. Obviously you want to win matches and series but the purpose here was to build for the World Cup. I was telling the guys in the change-room, I don’t mind a series loss if we beat South Africa in the World Cup. That would be the perfect response,” Sammy said.
West Indies are in Pool B and will oppose Ireland, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, South Africa, India and the United Arab Emirates.
Unless they really play poorly, reaching the quarter-finals should not be a problem. From thereon, they will have to show their mettle.
The withdrawal from the squad on Tuesday of off-spinner Sunil Narine, citing the need for more time to bowl for sustained periods with his new action after it was reported during the Champions League Twenty20 tournament last year, naturally created a big talking point.
After all, he grabbed six for nine for new champions Trinidad & Tobago Red Force against Guyana Jaguars in the final of the Nagico Super50 on his home ground at Queen’s Park Oval two days earlier.
While Narine’s decision must be respected, well-placed sources reckon he was fearful of playing in the World Cup, no doubt wary of the scrutiny he would come under.
And it has been further suggested in some quarters that an announcement by the ICC that it will fast-track the testing process during the World Cup and submit a report within a week of a bowler’s action being reported could have played a psychological part in the decision.
It has been reported that the faster evaluation is part of ICC’s effort to eradicate suspect bowling actions and is bound to defeat any strategy of teams saving bowlers with suspect actions for the latter stages of the World Cup. We are told that would have worked under the Standard Regulations applicable to non-ICC Events where the bowler can continue to bowl in international cricket as long as he is tested within three weeks of being reported.
Narine’s replacement, Nikita Miller, the Jamaica left-arm spinner, deserves his selection. Miller has played 45 ODIs and taken 40 wickets at 36.52 runs each with an economy rate of 4.59 runs per over. He is a tough campaigner and should deliver once given the opportunity.
After the first three ODIs against South Africa, Sammy said there was a team meeting at which “the guys laid everything on the table”.
“The captain asked us to show some pride and man up and we did that in the fourth game,” Sammy remarked.
Such words were probably uttered for the final match as well but to no avail. There must be a lot more talking, plenty action and team unity at the World Cup if West Indies are to exceed expectations.
Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) championship for over three decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Holder is also the host of the cricket Talk Show, Mid Wicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights. Email: Keithfholder@gmail.com.